This Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) we are celebrating the contribution of some of the amazing people who give up their time to support WWT’s work for people and nature.
Many individuals bring their skills to WWT on a voluntary basis and much of what they do is made possible thanks to funding raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, who have raised more than £4.8 million for WWT since 2015, awarded through the Postcode Planet Trust.
One of those volunteers is Dereck Wood (pictured above), from Cam in Gloucestershire, who greets guests at WWT Slimbridge. By being one of the first faces people see when they enter Dereck acts as a focal point for their day, helping people engage with wetland nature by letting them know what’s on around the centre, sharing the latest wildlife sightings and selling bird food for wild ducks and geese.
Dereck began volunteering in March 2017 but his journey to Slimbridge began much earlier. In 2012 Dereck was speeding around Cadwell Park’s racing circuit on a motorbike capable of reaching 200mph.
Having suffered from motion sickness for a long time Dereck wasn’t surprised when he stopped for a pitstop and was so unsteady he threw up in his helmet and fell off his bike.
Booked in for a routine nasal surgery in 2013 Dereck had a strange feeling and on the spur of the moment asked for a scan of his head. The doctors delivered devastating news: they had found an aneurysm, a dangerous, bulging blood vessel in his brain.
Over the next year Dereck underwent ten gruelling surgeries, requiring operations lasting up to eight hours and only ending when a new technique allowed access to the aneurysm via his femoral artery. Even after all this Dereck wasn’t out of the woods. Suffering a stroke in 2016 he fell over three times on the way out of his bedroom and was rushed to hospital.
Recovery was hard. Dereck explained:
“I spent four days a week for two years in the gym, pushing myself to do things, and overcome things I couldn’t do.”
“It was an integral point in my recovery. I lost my job in 2016, I retired in my 40s, my daughter got married and moved out in 2017.”
In March 2017 Dereck was seeking volunteering opportunities and came across a position greeting visitors at Slimbridge.
“It was a reason to get up and do something. My father wanted me wrapped in cotton wool in a darkened room, but I’m the kind of person that, when you tell me I can’t do something, that just makes me want to do it more.”
Dereck began volunteering, re-learned how to ride his bike, got his driving license back after seven years and enjoyed the role so much he decided to stay. He has recently been cleared to continue by his doctor for another five years, helping visitors by telling them what’s on around the centre, sharing the latest wildlife sightings and selling bird food for wild ducks and geese.
He recently adopted a 2-year-old dog from Bosnia and is planning a return to racing, a few times a year at a much slower pace. Summing up his recovery Dereck said:
“If you’d have said to me five years ago I’d be here I’d have laughed at you.”
Another one of those volunteers is Cerith Allen, who helps out at WWT Llanelli with everything from organising the shop, demonstrating pond dipping, assisting school groups and even giving a talk on flamingos.
Cerith is on the autism spectrum and is supported in his volunteering by his father Simon and by staff at WWT Llanelli. Interested in wildlife from a young age, Cerith started volunteering for WWT when he was 16, wowing the team at Llanelli with his outstanding knowledge of species visible from the interview room.
Seven years on he now knows the centre like the back of his hand and was even instrumental in finding a lost child who had wondered off from their parent.
As well as all he has done for the site Cerith has also benefited from his volunteering. The friends he has made at the site have seen him grow in confidence, so much so that he performed a love song in Japanese at a recent Christmas party and recited one of his Dad’s comedic poems about a Christmas fairy.
Their on-stage partnership received such rave reviews from the staff that Simon went on to publish a rhyming children’s book about that festive fairy, seeing it on shelves by Christmas the next year. Simon explained:
“The impact it has had on both of us really has been quite profound.”
Cerith is now at college studying animal husbandry and has used the course’s work placement as an opportunity to work with animals at Llanelli full time.
Cerith said it was an honour to work at WWT Llanelli, adding:
“I’ve been having really good experiences at Llanelli even before I was volunteering here. Mum and dad used to take me there when I was a toddler and I’ve enjoyed my time here from then till now.”
Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said:
“It is truly inspiring to witness the immense dedication of volunteers like Dereck, Cerith and Simon, who make a remarkable impact in preserving vital wetland habitats as well as enabling others to connect with nature. In Britain, our players have raised £1.1 billion to support great causes. Seeing this incredible support in action through initiatives by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, alongside the tireless efforts of extraordinary volunteers, fills us with hope, a win for us all.”